It's easy to imagine how impressionable, adolescent girls might once have been swept off their feet by Jean Webster's 1912 novel about a young woman coming of age. But this musical adaptation of the book is a sentimental yarn with a slightly creepy twist. It follows the fortunes of Jerusha Abbott, a plucky-but-bashful orphan girl who goes to college thanks to the charitable intervention of an anonymous young sugar daddy. She ignores his command not to write, and their protracted love story unfolds in letters sent to him as she matures.
You don't need to be Sigmund Freud to suspect this of being an incestuous father fantasy – the title clarifies that. But all that Oedipal stuff is sugar coated with a quasi-Pygmalion narrative that is also reminiscent of 'Annie' and 'The Waltons'. The steadfastly wholesome letters from the young woman become the basis for duets that finally converge in a politely restrained climax. Paul Gordon's music and lyrics, meanwhile, are correspondingly saccharine, inoffensively bubbling along with guitar, keyboard and muted cascades of drums.
It's always courageous staging a new musical, and John Caird's doting production (first seen in the US) is handsomely designed, by David Farley, in a wood-panelled library. Robert Adelman Hancock is, moreover, a perfectly procrastinating, preppy 'Daddy Long Legs', falling in love with his sparky young protégé and fretting over whether to show his hand.
But with her bright eyes, beaming smile and milky complexion framed by corkscrew curls, Megan McGinnis steals this show. She is a living picture of innocence as Jerusha – hardworking, earnest, playful, submissive and a teeny bit assertive. Her voice, too, is tender, vulnerable and gently defiant, but for this leathery old hack, it's all too sweetly wholesome.